Bruce Lee

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Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee1.jpg
Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon
Birth name: Jun Fan Lee
Date of birth: November 27, 1940
Birth location: San Francisco, California, United States
Date of death: July 20, 1973
Death location: Hong Kong
Height: 5 ft 7½ in (1.71 m)
Official site:
Notable role(s): 'Lee' in Enter the Dragon
Spouse: Linda Lee Cadwell

Bruce Jun Fan Lee (November 27, 1940 – July 20, 1973), was a Chinese-American martial artist, instructor, and actor widely regarded as one of the most influential martial artists of the twentieth century.

Like many of his colleagues, Lee saw the martial arts in part as a means to promote Chinese national pride. His films sparked the first major surge of interest in Chinese martial arts in the West. The direction and tone of his films changed and influenced martial arts and martial-arts films in Hong Kong, China, and the rest of the world. Lee became an iconic, heroic figure particularly to Chinese people, as he portrayed Chinese national pride and Chinese nationalism in his movies.[1] His performance in the Hollywood-produced Enter the Dragon elevated the traditional Hong Kong, martial-arts film to a new level of popularity and acclaim.[2]

Many see Lee as a model for acquiring a strong and efficient body, as well as developing a mastery of martial arts and hand-to-hand combat skills. Lee began the process of creating his own martial-arts, fighting system based on his philosophy known as Jeet Kune Do. Bruce Lee's critique of traditional, martial-arts doctrines is nowadays seen as the first step into the modern style of mixed martial arts.

Early life

Bruce Lee was born at the "Chinese Hospital" in San Francisco, California to a Chinese father, Lee Hoi-Chuen, and Chinese-German mother, Grace Lee. At the time Lee was born, his parents were on a tour with an opera company in the United States. At the age of three months, he and his parents returned to Hong Kong where he would be raised until the age of 18.


Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee's Cantonese given name was Jun Fan. Literally it means "invigorate San Francisco." [3] At birth, he was given the English name "Bruce" by Dr. Mary Glover, the supervising physician at his birth. Mrs. Lee had not initially planned on an English name, but deemed it appropriate and concurred with Dr. Glover. Interestingly, the name "Bruce" was never used within his family until he enrolled in high school.

Bruce Lee's screen name was Lee Siu Lung in Cantonese and Li Xiao Long in Mandarin, which literally means "Lee Little Dragon." These were first used by a director of a 1950 Cantonese movie in which Lee performed. It is possible that the name Little Dragon was chosen based on his childhood name "small phoenix." In Chinese tradition, the Chinese dragon and phoenix come in pairs to represent the male and female genders, respectively. However, it is more likely that he was called Little Dragon because he was born in the Year of the Dragon in the Hour of the Dragon, according to the Chinese zodiac.

Education and family

At age 14, Bruce Lee entered La Salle College, a Hong Kong high school, under the wing of brother Henry. Later he attended another high school, Saint Francis Xavier's College, in Kowloon, where he represented their boxing team in inter-school events.

In 1959, Bruce got into a fight with a feared Triad gang member's son. His father became concerned about young Bruce's safety, and as a result, he and his wife decided to send Bruce to the United States to live with an old friend of his father's. All he had was $100.00 in his pocket and the title of 1958 Crown Colony Cha Cha Champion of Hong Kong. After living in San Francisco, he moved to Seattle to work for Ruby Chow, another friend of his father's. In 1959, Lee completed his high-school education in Seattle and received his diploma from Edison Technical School, in Seattle. He enrolled at the University of Washington as a philosophy major. It was at the University of Washington that he met his future wife, Linda Emery, whom he would marry in 1964.

Lee had two children with Linda, Brandon Lee (born 1965) and Shannon Lee (born 1969). Brandon, who would also become an actor like his father, died in an accident during the filming of The Crow in 1993.

Martial arts training

Bruce Lee saw the martial arts not only as a fighting discipline, but also as a way to improve the moral and spiritual health of the Chinese people, as well as mankind generally. Young Bruce learned the fundamentals of Wu style Tai Chi Chuan from his father, Lee Hoi Cheun. He always held that the principles of Tai Chi Chuan influenced his view of martial arts all through his life, both as an actor and a martial artist. While it is obvious that the style studied by his father was the Wu style, Lee was seen on at least one occasion demonstrating the 108 basic movements of the Yang form.

Lee started training in Wing Chun at the age of 14 under Hong Kong Wing Chun master Yip Man. Lee was introduced to his sifu, Yip Man, in early 1954 by William Cheung, who was then a live-in student of Yip Man. Like most martial arts schools at that time, Yip Man's classes were often taught by the highest-ranking students. One of these at the time of Lee's training was Wong Shun-leung, who is understood to have had the largest influence on Lee. Yip Man trained Lee privately after some students refused to train with Lee due to his mixed ancestry. Lee would leave before learning the entire Wing Chun curriculum, but Wing Chun formed a foundation for his later explorations of martial arts.

In between the learning of Tai Chi and Wing Chun, Lee also learned bits and pieces of the Hung Gar style from a friend of his father. There are photographs of Lee demonstrating animal stances and forms found within its teachings.

Fighting Styles

Jun Fan Gung Fu

Lee began the process of creating his own martial-arts system after his arrival in the United States in 1959. Lee called his martial art Jun Fan Gung Fu (literally "Bruce's" Gung Fu). It consisted mostly of Wing Chun, with elements of Western boxing and fencing. Lee taught friends he met in Seattle, starting with Judo practitioner Jesse Glover as his first student. Glover later became his first assistant instructor. Before moving to California, Lee opened his first, martial-arts school, named the Lee Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute, in Seattle.

In 1964, Lee was challenged by Wong Jack Man, a practitioner of the Northern Shaolin form of martial arts. Wong said that he requested a bout with Lee as a result of Lee's open challenge during a demonstration at a Chinatown theater. Lee had claimed to be able to defeat any martial artist in San Francisco, according to Wong. The two fought in December, 1964, at a kung fu school in Oakland. Lee and Wong provided significantly different accounts of the private bout, which was not filmed. Lee later stated in an interview, without naming Wong as the loser, that he had defeated an unnamed challenger. In response, Wong wrote his own description of the fight Chinese Pacific Weekly, a Chinese-language newspaper in San Francisco. Lee believed that his willingness to teach "secret" Chinese martial arts to non-Asian students created enemies in the martial-arts community.

Jeet Kune Do

Lee believed that the fight with Wong had lasted too long and that he had failed to live up to his potential. He took the view that traditional, martial-arts techniques were too rigid and formalistic to be practical in scenarios of real street fighting. Lee decided to develop a system with an emphasis on "practicality," "flexibility," "speed," and "efficiency." He started to use different methods of training such as weight training for strength, running for endurance, stretching for flexibility, and many others which he constantly adapted.

Lee emphasized what he called "the style of no style." This consisted of utilizing a non-formalized approach which he claimed was not indicative of traditional styles. Because Lee felt the system he called Jun Fan Gung Fu was too restrictive, he transformed it into what he would come to describe as Jeet Kune Do, or the "Way of the Intercepting Fist." This was a term he would later regret because it implied a specific style, whereas his real idea was a martial-arts system outside of parameters and limitations.

Lee certified three instructors: Taky Kimura, James Yimm Lee (no relation to Bruce Lee), and Dan Inosanto. James Yimm Lee, a close friend of Bruce Lee, died in 1972 without certifying additional students. Kimura trained one certified practitioner in Jun Fan Gung Fu: his son and heir Andy Kimura. Inosanto continued to teach and certify select students. Prior to his death, Lee told Inosanto and Kimura to dismantle his schools for fear that the students would mistake Bruce's program as the "Way" and the agenda as the "Truth." Both Kimura and Inosanto continued to teach small classes thereafter, but without using the name Jeet Kune Do.

As a result of a lawsuit between the estate of Bruce Lee and the Inosanto Academy, the name "Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do" was legally trademarked, and the rights were given solely to the Lee estate.

1964 Long Beach International Karate Championships

Lee appeared in the 1964 Long Beach International Karate Championships, performing repetitions of two-finger pushups using the thumb and the index finger, with feet at approximately a shoulder-width apart. In the same Long Beach event he also performed his famous "One-inch punch."

Lee stood upright, his right foot forward with knees bent slightly, in front of a standing, stationary partner. Lee's right arm was partly extended and his right fist approximately an inch away from the partner's chest. Without retracting his right arm, Lee then forcibly delivered the punch to his partner while largely maintaining his posture, sending the partner backwards and falling into a chair placed behind the partner to prevent injury, though the force of the impact caused his partner to soon after fall onto the floor.

Acting career

Through his opera-singer father, Lee was introduced into films at a very young age, appearing in several black-and-white films as a child.

Lee attempted to start his acting career in America. He became famous for playing the role of Kato in the TV series The Green Hornet, which lasted for only one season, from 1966 to 1967. Lee's popularity in Hong Kong, where he was raised, was such that the show was marketed there as The Kato Show. The Green Hornet roles also inspired the comedic combination of Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau and Burt Kwouk as Cato in the Pink Panther movies co-written and directed by Blake Edwards.

In 1967, he played a martial-arts instructor in an episode of the television series Ironside. In 1969, he appeared in the film Marlowe, where he played a thug who smashed up James Garner's office with karate chops and kicks. In 1971, he appeared in four episodes of the TV series Longstreet playing a martial-arts instructor to James Franciscus.

Not happy with the roles that he was being offered in America, Lee then returned to Hong Kong and was offered a film contract by Raymond Chow for his production company, Golden Harvest. He starred in three films which brought him immense popularity across Asia, The Big Boss (1971), Fist of Fury (1972), and Way of the Dragon (1972,) which he also wrote and directed. In 1964, at a demonstration in Long Beach, California, Lee first met his co-star in Way of the Dragon karate, champion Chuck Norris.

His last completed film, Enter the Dragon (1973) was the first to be produced jointly by a Chinese and American studio and was released two weeks after Lee's untimely death, cementing his status as a martial arts legend. The film epic was made for $850,000 in 1973 ($3.74 million in 2005 currency. To date, Enter the Dragon has grossed more than $90,000,000. [4]

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a student of Lee, co-starred in Game of Death, which Lee also directed. In the film, Lee, wearing the now-famous, yellow track suit, took on the seven-foot-two, basketball player in a climactic fight scene. Unfortunately, Lee died before the film was finished. After his death, Robert Clouse, who directed Enter the Dragon, finished the film using a Bruce Lee look-alike and footage from Lee's other films. It was released in 1978.


Although Bruce Lee is best known as a martial artist and actor, he majored in philosophy at the University of Washington. His philosophy often mirrored his fighting beliefs, though he was quick to claim that his martial arts were solely a metaphor for such teachings. His influences include Taoism and Buddhism. Lee was a younger contemporary of the Hindu Philosopher and teacher, Jiddu Krishnamurti, whose philosophy also influenced Lee's.[5] Lee referred to Krishnamurti in the book The Tao Of Jeet Kune Do.


The following are some of Bruce Lee's quotes that reflect his fighting philosophy.

  • "If I tell you I'm good, you would probably think I'm boasting. If I tell you I'm no good, you know I'm lying."
  • "Be formless… shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle; it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot; it becomes the teapot. Water can flow, and it can crash. Be water, my friend…"
  • "Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it."
  • "The more relaxed the muscles are, the more energy can flow through the body. Using muscular tensions to try to 'do' the punch or attempting to use brute force to knock someone over will only work to the opposite effect."
  • "Mere technical knowledge is only the beginning of Kung Fu. To master it, one must enter into the spirit of it."
  • "I'm not a master. I'm a student-master, meaning that I have the knowledge of a master and the expertise of a master, but I'm still learning. So I'm a student-master. I don't believe in the word 'master.' I consider the master as such when they close the casket."
  • "Do not deny the classical approach, simply as a reaction, or you will have created another pattern and trapped yourself there."
  • "Jeet Kune Do: it's just a name; don't fuss over it. There's no such thing as a style if you understand the roots of combat."
  • "Unfortunately, now in boxing people are only allowed to punch. In Judo, people are only allowed to throw. I do not despise these kinds of martial arts. What I mean is, we now find rigid forms which create differences among clans, and the world of martial arts is shattered as a result."
  • "True observation begins when one is devoid of set patterns."
  • "Use no way as way; use no limitation as limitation."
  • "The other weakness is, when clans are formed, the people of a clan will hold their kind of martial art as the only truth and do not dare to reform or improve it. Thus they are confined in their own tiny little world. Their students become machines which imitate martial art forms."
  • "Ultimately, martial art means honestly expressing yourself. It is easy for me to put on a show and be cocky so I can show you some really fancy movement. But to express oneself honestly, not lying to oneself, and to express myself honestly enough; that my friend is very hard to do."

See also Wikiquotes for more quotes by Bruce Lee.

Physical fitness


Bruce Lee felt that many martial artists of his day did not spend enough time on physical conditioning. Lee did not resort to traditional bodybuilding techniques to build mass; he was more interested in speed and power. In his book the Tao of Jeet Kune Do, he wrote "Training is one of the most neglected phases of athletics. Too much time is given to the development of skill and too little to the development of the individual for participation."

Lee believed that the abdominal muscles were one of the most important muscle groups for a martial artist, since virtually every movement requires some degree of abdominal work. Perhaps more importantly, the "abs" are like a shell, protecting the ribs and vital organs. However, Bruce Lee's washboard abs did not come from mere abdominal training; he was also a proponent of cardiovascular conditioning and would regularly run, jump rope, and ride a stationary bicycle. A typical exercise for Lee would be to run a distance of two to six miles in 15 to 45 minutes.

His physical prowess impressed others, including friend Wally Jay, who said: "I last saw Bruce after he moved from Culver City to Bel Air. He had a big heavy bag hanging out on his patio. It weighed 300 pounds. I could hardly move it at all. Bruce said to me 'Hey, Wally, watch this,' and he jumped back and kicked it and this monster of a heavy bag went up to the ceiling, Thump!!! And came back down. I still can't believe the power that guy had."


Another element in Lee's quest for abdominal definition was nutrition. According to his wife, Linda Lee, soon after he moved to the United States, Bruce Lee started to take nutrition seriously, and developed an interest in health foods and high-protein drinks. "Several times a day, he took a high-protein drink made up of powdered milk, ice water, eggs, eggshells, bananas, vegetable oil, peanut flour, and chocolate ice cream," and, she claims, Lee's waist fluctuated between 26 and 28 inches. "He also drank his own juice concoctions made from vegetables and fruits, apples, celery, carrots and so on, prepared in an electric blender."

Lee ate lean meat sparingly and consumed large amounts of fruits and vegetables. In later years, he became very knowledgeable about vitamin supplements, and each day apportioned himself exactly the right quota of vitamins A, B, C, D, and E.

Death by "misadventure"

Bruce Lee's death was officially attributed to cerebral edema.

On July 20, 1973, Lee was in Hong Kong, due to have dinner with former James Bond star George Lazenby, with whom he intended to make a film. According to Bruce's wife Linda, Lee met producer Raymond Chow at 2:00 p.m. at home to discuss the making of the movie Game of Death. They worked until 4:00 p.m. and then drove together to the home of Lee's mistress, Betty Ting Pei, a Taiwanese actress who was to have a leading role in the film. The three went over the script at her home, and then Chow left to attend a dinner meeting.

A short time later, Lee complained of a headache, and Ting Pei gave him an analgesic. At around 7:30 p.m., he laid down for a nap. After Lee did not turn up for the dinner, Chow came to the apartment but could not wake Lee up. A doctor was summoned, who spent ten minutes attempting to revive him before sending him by ambulance to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong. However, Lee was dead by the time he reached the hospital. There was no visible external injury; however, his brain had swollen considerably, from 1,400 to 1,575 grams (13 percent). Lee was 32 years old. On October 15, 2005, Chow stated in an interview that Lee was allergic to the drug Equagesic. When the doctors announced Bruce Lee's death officially, it was termed, "Death by Misadventure."

Another theory is that Lee died from an allergic reaction to marijuana, which he was consuming at the time in hashish form.[6] This allegation has been the cause of much controversy, but it is confirmed that traces of the substance were found during his autopsy.[7]

The grave site of Bruce Lee and his son, Brandon

However, the exact details of Lee's death are controversial. Bruce Lee's iconic status and unusual death at a young age led many people to develop many theories about Lee's death. Such theories included his murder by the triads and a curse on Lee and his family, which carried over to Lee's son, Brandon Lee, also an actor, who died nearly 20 years after his father in a bizarre accident while filming The Crow.

Despite the "curse," three of Lee's films (Enter the Dragon, Way of the Dragon, and Game of Death) successfully premiered after his death, catapulting him into the status of international film star.

Lee was buried in Seattle. His son, Brandon, is buried beside him. Pallbearers at his funeral on July 31, 1973 included Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Dan Inosanto, Taky Kimura, Peter Chin, and Bruce's brother, Robert Lee. To this day, over 30 years after his death, fresh flowers are found on his gravestone every day.


  1. Felix Dennis, & Atyeo, Don. (1974) Bruce Lee King of Kung-Fu. (Straight Arrow Books. ISBN 0879320885)
  2. Joel Stein Bruce Lee. retrieved March 6, 2007
  3. Linda Lee, et al. 1989. The Bruce Lee Story. (Ohara Publications. ISBN 978-0897501217).
  4. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 7, 2007.
  5. Andy Kimura, Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute of Seattle Retrieved February 26, 2008.
  6. Cause of Death, Bruce Lee Divine Wind. Retrieved February 26, 2008.
  7. The Gladiator – Bruce Lee, The World Wing Jung Kung Fu Association, Retrieved February 26, 2008.

Books authored

  • Lee, Bruce, with Uyehara, Mitoshi. (1978) Bruce Lee's Fighting Method, Vol. 1: Self-Defense Techniques. Ohara Publications. ISBN 978-0897500500
  • Lee, Bruce. (1982) Bruce Lee's Fighting Method, Vol. 2: Basic training. Ohara Publications. ISBN 978-0897500517,
  • Lee, Bruce. (1977) Bruce Lee's Fighting Method, Vol. 3: Skill in Techniques. Ohara Publications. ISBN 978-0897500524
  • Lee, Bruce. (1977) Bruce Lee's Fighting Method, Vol. 4: Advanced Techniques. Ohara Publications. ISBN 978-0897500531
  • Lee, Bruce, with John R. Little, ed., (1997) Words of the Dragon: Interviews 1958-1973. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 978-0804831338
  • Lee, Bruce, with John R. Little, ed. (2000) Bruce Lee: The Celebrated Life of the Golden Dragon. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 978-0804832304
  • Lee, Bruce. (1988) Chinese Gung-Fu: The Philosophical Art of Self Defense. Ohara Publications. ISBN 978-0897501125
  • Lee, Bruce, with John R. Little, ed. (1997) Jeet Kune Do: Bruce Lee's Commentaries on the Martial Way. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 978-0804831321
  • Lee, Bruce, with John R. Little, ed. (1997) The Tao of Gung Fu: A Study in the Way of Chinese Martial Arts, Vol. 2 Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 978-0804831109

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Balicki, Ron, and Steve Gold. Jeet Kune Do: The Principles of a Complete Fighter. HNL Publishing, 2007. ISBN 978-0955264849
  • Dennis, Felix & Atyeo, Don. Bruce Lee King of Kung-Fu. Straight Arrow Books, 1974. ISBN 0879320885
  • Lee, Linda et al. The Bruce Lee Story. Ohara Publications, 1989. ISBN 978-0897501217
  • Miller, Davis. The Tao of Bruce Lee. Three Rivers Press. 2001. ISBN 978-0609805381
  • Thomas, Bruce. Bruce Lee: Fighting Spirit. North Atlantic Books, Frog, Ltd., 1994. ISBN 978-1883319250


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